Editor’s Note: Tony Smotherman is on CVA’s Pro Staff, and he hunts all over the nation throughout hunting season. We asked him to share with us some of his most-interesting muzzleloader hunts.
Question: Tony, we know that Illinois is one of your favorite states to hunt. How did you do there this year?
Smotherman: Illinois isn’t too far from my Tennessee farm, and this state has some giant whitetails. I like to hunt the west-central area of Illinois in the Brown County area. This is one of the Golden Triangle counties, and I’ve taken nice deer there every year since 1998. I hunt with a good buddy of mine, Toby Stay of Illinois Connection, who lives in Brown County and operates Illinois Connection in Mount Sterling, Ill. I took my CVA Apex, and this time I was using my .50 barrel. I went for 2 weeks during the second gun season and the muzzleloading season. The second gun season started the weekend after Thanksgiving, and it was a 4-day season.
I’d sent some Moultrie trail cameras up there before my hunt, and some of my friends had put them out all-around this farm where I hunted. I had several whitetail bucks on my hit list that I would take if I saw them. Two or three of these bucks were 160 inches or better. But there was one buck that I called the Big 7. He had a 150-inch frame with 5 points on one side, and on the other side he had a big crab claw. I like to hunt odd bucks – bucks that are a little different from the bucks that everyone else hunts. This buck was a 5X2. I’d hunted on this farm several times, and there was one field that was right in the core of this 400-acre farm. In this core area, either I’d always take a big buck or someone I knew would take a big buck. There was a slender agricultural field that was in corn this past deer season. In the winter, every day we went out was cold. The temperature would start-out in single digits each day. Anytime you’re hunting in the Midwest and the weather is cold, cornfields usually will be your best bet. This field had some corn that had already been harvested, and it also had some standing corn left in it.
When I hunted Illinois, I always packed my lunch, went into my stand at daylight and didn’t come-out until dark. The opening day of the season was on a Thursday, and on opening day, we didn’t see much deer movement in the morning. At noon, we had three does come in from our left-hand side that walked right into the field. Behind them, I could see other deer coming in through the field. I used my 10X42 Alpen Rainier binoculars to look at the deer behind the does that we could see. I spotted the Big 7 working his way up the draw toward the cornfield where the does were. I knew if he kept-on coming, I’d have a 100-yard shot with my CVA Apex. But the Big 7 never moved into the field. He stayed about 10-yards inside the timber. This property had been cutover before, and the foliage was too thick for me to try a shot. When the does finally left the field after about 10-15 minutes, the Big 7 vanished, never presenting a shot. We didn’t see the Big 7 the rest of the day.
We went into the same field the next morning and got in a different stand, because the wind had changed. At 11:04 am, the cameraman spotted three does coming into the field. I picked-up my Apex and got in position to shoot, just in case the Big 7 was following the does. After the cameraman had filmed the does, he started looking behind the does and behind me and whispered, “The Big 7 is coming. He’s at 60 yards and coming straight to us.” Instead of coming-in to where the does had been, he’d circled way around, made an 80-yard loop and came in the cornfield from a different area from where the does had come. The does were still within shooting range of me at about 120 yards. When the buck finally came into the field, he began to herd the does out of the field and presented me with a 110-yard shot. When the .50 CVA Apex reported, the Big 7 laid-down where he’d been standing before I squeezed the trigger.
Question: What bullet and powder charge were you using?
Smotherman: I was shooting 120 grains of Blackhorn 209 powder and a new bullet, the 300-grain PowerBelt AeroLite. This bullet was one of the most-impressive bullets I’d ever shot, because when that bullet hit the buck, he just folded-up. He never moved another step after the bullet hit him. The bullet made a clean pass-through. I wish I could have recovered the bullet to see what it had done after it hit the deer. I tried to place the bullet behind the third rib as the buck quartered away from me. The bullet passed through that vital area and went out the off-shoulder, putting the buck down immediately. If you haven’t looked at this new PowerBelt bullet, you really need to check it out.